The entertainment industry is always looking to impress consumers by pushing the boundaries in technology, and 2010's wave of 3-D technology is no different.
After companies suffocated potential buyers with the advertisement of LCD, LED and Blu-ray technologies, which have each done their part to improve the home entertainment experience, what attraction does 3-D have to consumers, many of whom have recently purchased new televisions and systems?
Four main companies — Panasonic, Sony, Samsung and LG — have hit the market in force with new lines of 3-D televisions, Blu-ray players and 3-D glasses. In addition to those, Sony also offers a 3-D upgrade to its PlayStation 3, and Panasonic has created a consumer 3-D camcorder, advertising that you, too, can make Hollywood-quality movies.
Yes, it's cool, but who wants to spend $1,400 to shoot 3-D home movies of little Billy picking his nose while eating birthday cake? The snot is so close you can almost touch it.
After invading Hollywood and wowing us with movies such as "Avatar," the technology seems impressive, but when you take away the movie theater atmosphere, will it have the same effect? Consider the following before you look too hard into upgrading to 3-D.
All televisions are created equal in the sense that they show you pretty pictures. So, why pay for more when you won't really get more?
As newer LED high-definition televisions have become more mainstream, they've also become slightly cheaper and larger, which creates a great home viewing experience at less cost. Chipping in for a new 3-D television will make you pay thousands more and will also limit your viewing pleasure, at least for now.
Television channels such as ESPN and a bevy of movie channels offer plenty of HD shows and events to watch, but only lately has experimentation begun for shooting events in 3-D, the most notable being the FIFA World Cup. Very few are offered, and it will be a while before programming is widely available in more than two dimensions.
According to Sony, 3-D movie releases are supposed to jump from 16 in 2009 to 30 by 2011. The problem is, they haven't jumped yet. Projections are a fantastic way for companies to suck you in, and they aren't worth buying into. Nearly all movies that come out now are available in Blu-ray, which is a very involved and detailed experience, and "nearly all" is more than 30.
To the companies' credit, the televisions aren't only 3-D. They have all the features of a full HD television, which means if you're in the market for a new television and haven't bought any of the latest, investing may not be a bad option.
One downside, and this is not advertised, is that to watch 3-D, you have to purchase a separate emitter that sends a signal to your special 3-D glasses.
3-D TVs come in a range of lengths from 40 to 65 inches and cost from $2,000 to $7,000.
Emitters cost about $50.
These have been front and center in the 3-D debate.
The technology is impressive and simple: The television alternates between different images, one meant for your right eye, the other for your left, and the images are seen through special "active shutter glasses." These glasses receive a signal from the television and synchronize the individual lenses to the alternating images, opening one and then the other in time to when the image is flashed on the screen. The images are shown on screen at a rate four times faster than normal, allowing for smooth viewing.
The problems, however, are many. Users have complained about the size of the glasses, the uncomfortable nosepiece and the incompatibility between systems. Even though each company uses the same technology, Sony glasses, for example, won't sync with Samsung TVs.
Active shutter glasses cost about $150 each.
The experience is the most important aspect of 3-D. It will, unfortunately, vary. Set aside that there aren't many 3-D programs or movies offered. Will 3-D be as good at home?
Most of the appeal comes from the theater, says University of Oklahoma film professor Andy Horton.
"There's something amazing about watching 'Avatar' with hundreds of people in a large place. In ancient Greece, you could have 20- to 30-thousand people watching a tragedy. That's pretty amazing. And that's total 3-D."
The large film screen allows for more presence. You're there. It's larger than life. You're involved. It's in that arena that 3-D was born and will likely remain, Horton said.
At home, the biggest screen available is 60 inches, and it's advised by Sony to sit four to 10 feet from the screen. While this may not be a problem for some, for others, that's too close, sort of like sitting in the first few rows in the theater.
Also, the angle at which you watch affects how the picture looks. While straight ahead may be fine, the picture starts losing its effect when you start straying left or right.
Family-friendly equates to inclusivity, but if a family of four has to sit four feet in front of a television, bunched as close as possible together, to get the best out of the experience, it may not be worth it. As 3-D becomes more common in theaters, it may become less expensive and more worth making special trips for.
This is where the potential lies. Gaming is about getting involved and transcending a spectator role, and 3-D was built for that reason. As a side note, gaming often involves a lone youth close to a television screen, which allows the 3-D to deliver in full.
With Sony's PlayStation 3 upgrade, the floodgates have opened for an era of gaming. For those gamers out there, imagine a "Call of Duty" where depth becomes natural, no longer having to rely on the silly two dimensions of original NES games such as "Duck Hunt."
Racing, action and sports games have the potential for greatness with 3-D, luring gamers into the rubber-burning, quest-faring, quarterback-crunching action.
With 3-D, you live the game. It really is an immersion experience.
"Hollywood knows it can do the special effects ... I think there will always be some special effects, fancy films out there," Horton said.
But fancy films in the theater are much different from programming in the home. While the thrill of having 3-D movies accessible in your house may be appealing, it probably isn't the time to invest unless you're already in the market. It will take a few years for television and film to expand the 3-D agenda, if it expands at all, and there's a lot that could happen before than.
But gamers may want to do some more research and take a hard look. If you have the money and the appetite for innovation, chances are the industry will oblige you.
For the everyday TV buyer, wait for the kinks to iron out and the technology to sharpen before you bring the theater all the way home.